Howard County Officials Cite Hope for Better Audit

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FAYETTE - County officials told KOMU 8 News Thursday a state audit released Wednesday did not take into account all the data about county finances and how those officials have worked with limited resources.  The state auditor gave Howard County a "poor" rating, pointing out some county funds are in "poor financial condition" and some departments have flaws in their financial procedures. 

Howard County Sheriff Charles Polson and his department is on the list with poor accounting performances. The report pointed out bank reconciliation problems and said duties are not properly divided. 

"When people look at it, it might look like there's money missing. But that's not the case. It's just saying that we're not reconciling our bank records with our deposit. They've done their audit. They can't find any money is missing," said Polson.

Polson said he wishes he could have segregated duties better, but the department is operating with minimum staff. Right now, five deputies patrol the 500-square-mile county. 

"There is no employee to help supervise, you got to do what you got. There's one secretary for the whole agency, and she is in charge of keeping track of the money and deposits and coming in and out and all the paperwork," said Polson.

Polson said the reason for some practices is that the department is financially crunched. A sales tax decrease five years ago dropped revenue from $310,000 to $270,000 per year.

"We are not getting new cars. We are not getting new equipment. The employees haven't had a raise for five years," said Polson.

County Clerk Kathyrne Harper said the financial difficulty in Howard County is not news anymore, but officials have managed to keep the budget balanced for the last five years and the report didn't mention that improvement.

"We budgeted that we're going to red, but we didn't actually do it," said Harper, "When you're elected, you're charged with that office, so when the commission approves your budget and says I am gonna give you $100,000 to run your office, you can spend every penny of it. But they only spend $60,000 because that's all they need."

Harper thinks the situation will be better. The county passed a half cent sales tax in August 2010 that will take effect in January 2011. 

"If you go back to look at the audit reports we had four years ago, you've seen huge improvement. I kind of wish they would have talked about the possive message and the changes that we've made," she said.

The State Auditor's Office will review Howard County again in three months to look at its improvements.